Volunteer Guatemala: After my first full day in Xela I knew I was going to love my time here; in Spanish class, in the after school program, and in my homestay. The local people are friendly and if you have an open mind and like the unexpectedness that is Central America, you too will love it here.
1. How were the local ABV coordinators and the support provided in-country?
Fantastic. The local support staff checked in on me no less than once a week and was very quick to respond to messages. Communication was extremely clear before and during the trip, and my arrival was coordinated very smoothly. I can´t thank them enough for coordinating my Spanish lessons with such a fantastic teacher.
2. What was the most surprising thing you experienced?
There is so much to see and do in and around Xela. It´s also relatively easy to get around to the neighboring cities like those around Atitlan and Antigua.
There´s a level of poverty that western people may not have been exposed to that could be a bit shocking.
Five weeks pass incredibly fast!!
3. What was most difficult to experience?
Meeting 80-100 kids who display the affects of malnutrition, likely as a secondary symptom of a life in poverty, is very difficult. Fortunately this feeling is quickly combated when you their spirit. The most difficult thing was then saying goodbye to all of them. It was a bit surprising how quickly you bond with them.
4. Any tips for future volunteers? (clothing, travel, personal items, donations, etc. ?
Bring many combination of layers. The weather changes a lot throughout the day. Also, don´t bring anything that may have specific drying requirements. The lavanderias only know one way – dry, high heat.
5. Other things volunteers should know?
a. Y´all want to know as much Spanish as possible before you arrive.
b. Xela is high, and the weather is not at all like it is in Guatemala City, Antigua or the coast. Bring warm clothes, and lots of layers.
c. Simple western conveniences like good wifi and hot showers are not often a guarantee.
d. It´s definitely a cash-based community, you won´t often use a credit card.
6. ABV program testimonial (write in your own words about your experience):
After my first full day in Xela I knew I was going to love my time here; in Spanish class, in the after school program, and in my homestay. The local people are friendly and if you have an open mind and like the unexpectedness that is Central America, you too will love it here.
I explored other places and hiked a lot of the weekends, and always looked forward to class Monday morning, followed by the after school program, which was my highlight of every day. Xela has a unique way of finding its way into everyone’s heart.
7. How would you describe your accommodation, meals, security (e.g. host family, on-site, shared)
I was with a host family, which was a first for me. The location was great and my host mom could not have been better. I had a large bedroom to myself and the meals were fantastic. I never felt unsafe there.
8. What was your favorite memory of this trip?
Every one of the twenty days I spent at the project. I found myself looking forward to seeing the kids each day. There was nothing particularly special about each day, they were all just great.
9. How was the ABV USA support prior to traveling?
Overall it was very good. The online chat persons always seemed to be available and answered all of my questions thoroughly. The volunteer orientation packet I received has many references to Ecuador and Peru, despite being titled: Guatemala.
From my first correspondence I was interested and told I´d be volunteering at an orphanage. It was not until a couple of weeks before coming that I learned I would be at the after school program. I was upset because I had wanted to be at an orphanage, and I was told I would be. Ultimately I would not change a thing and I loved my time at the after school program. My expectations could have been better managed.
10. Are you willing to speak to potential ABV volunteers?